There are certain things in life that you gradually start discarding as you get older. One of these is going to concerts where you have to stand for the entire show, jumping around to music while you clutch a plastic cup of beer. I prefer going to dinner and comfortably sitting through the whole thing.
So when my brother mentions a hip hop concert in Los Angeles with underground rappers in a new venue in Echo Park, I want to laugh.
‘I need to know if I should buy you a ticket,’ he says.
I don’t want a ticket, but I need a ride to Los Angeles and this is my best opportunity.
‘I don’t know,’ I answer hesitantly. ‘Will it be dangerous?’
When I went to college in Los Angeles in the 90s, Echo Park was in gangster territory, the war equivalent of no-man’s land. You only went there if you wanted drugs or if you had a death wish. When my friend’s car got stolen some years ago, it ended up in Echo Park. I didn’t want to be some sad statistic on the local news: 40-year-old mother-of-two attends hip hop concert and ends up shot in gang fight.
I have visions of being sprawled on the floor, dressed in my Macy’s jeans and Crocs shoes.
‘It’s not going to be dangerous,’ he laughs. ‘Echo Park is really yuppie now. Most of the people there will be young hipsters.’
It’s hard to know who I should fear more – the gangsters with baggy jeans or the cool hipsters who casually throw together mismatched clothes like some people are able to throw together a gourmet meal with three ingredients. At my age it’s hard to know.
‘Fine, buy me a ticket,’ I say with little conviction. Turning 40 has made me realize that I don’t have much time before I genuinely look ridiculous in certain settings. Seize the moment.
A few days later we are in the car, heading towards Los Angeles and our big concert night. I’m feeling anxious. Part of my anxiety derives from the fact that my wardrobe choices are limited in San Diego. I packed in a hurry and ended up with only one sweater, a creamy cotton thing with a shaggy fringe on the pockets. It looks like a ‘mother’ sweater, a wardrobe staple I’d wear to the park but would be embarrassed to wear anywhere else.
‘Maybe someone will think you are making an ironic statement,’ my brother says when he sees the sweater, which I’ve paired with my plastic Crocs shoes in a leopard print.
We drive up to the Echoplex in a grungy LA cab and I realize I had nothing to worry about. The outside patio is strung with cute lights; a number of white men, mostly in their late twenties and early thirties, are hanging out in American Apparel hoodies. They only know gangsters from movies which they possibly produced.
The opening act is Despot, a white diminutive rapper from Queens – but we find out that he’s not on until 10.30pm. We exchange dismayed looks. It’s not even 9pm and I’m already yawning. We debate leaving, but we can’t come back in.
So there’s nothing to be done but to start drinking and it costs $35 for each round of three drinks. Two long hours later, Despot makes it to the stage in a shirt that could rival my sweater. It looks like a bad holiday souvenir that inexplicably has Italian Riviera written on the back. I think he is being ironic.
To my surprise, I like Despot. He’s funny, clever and engaging. He actually talks to the audience and says much more than the standard ‘Hello Los Angeles’. His raps focus on the stereotypical aspects of gang life – drugs, buying fast cars and watches, drugs – but you get the feeling he doesn’t really believe in it.
Finally, at 12.45am, headline act Run the Jewels comes on. The act is a collaboration between EL-P and Killer Mike. Both are talented hip-hop veterans whose eponymous record received near-universal acclaim from music critics. I’m starting to flag after my seventh vodka soda, but my brother is happy (a rarity) and his girlfriend is laughing. I don’t know why the rappers yank off their chunky gold chains and start rapping about running the jewels, but I blend in with the crowd by screaming some of the words back to them. I’m kind of just making them up.
Tonight was a lesson in being middle-aged. Go out of your comfort zone once in a while. It’s too easy to get stuck in a rut. Shame my rap revelation had to cost us about $300 in drinks, cabs and tickets.